Part 1. Dark times
When Italy fell seriously ill at the end of February, even notorious optimists began to look into the 2020 calendar with deep concern. The Giro is not the first and not even the most significant start of the season, but it is one of only three grand tours, a race that has been interrupted during its 100-year history only due to world wars. Is this really possible now, in peacetime?
The Grand Tour is a three-week bike ride that combines variety, tension, and dedication in sport. Everyone knows about the Tour de France - the French grand tour, the same ones are held in Italy (Giro d'Italia) and Spain (Vuelta) - that's all, there are three of them, there are no others. The rest of the races are always shorter and often less prestigious (not counting the World Championship, the Olympics, and a few classic one-day races - more on them later).
The beginning of the cycling season was approaching, the growing numbers were hitting the nerves with canisters. Sports officials frowned and pulled with specifics. Everyone understood that if a miracle did not happen and the situation did not begin to improve dramatically, then there could be no question of any kind of competition. This is not biathlon, you cannot just skate the season with empty stands. If only because these stands do not exist: there is a track two hundred kilometers long, hundreds of thousands of fans line up along it every time, many of whom live either in motorhomes or even in tents on the days of the competition, to defend the place occupied for a long time in some unnamed hill, from where you can see a couple of turns of the road. It makes no sense to talk about distance in such conditions. But it would be necessary to ensure the safety of the main characters - two hundred cyclists who ride in a "pack" and breathe at the top of their lungs. Plus a string of sports technicians with team personnel and a bright and noisy sponsor caravan distributing gifts to jubilant crowds. Wonderful chaos, but it seems to be for other, happier times.
Since the very first days of this troubling spring, the cycling world has grabbed at straws as best it can, but in vain. Countries one after another gripped a disaster, and, like bastions under fire, collapsed, announcing the postponement of an indefinite race, a race with a century of history. They are called so - "monuments": five of the most prestigious one-day stories, leading the chronicle not even from the past - from the century before last. Transferred Milan - San Remo in Italy, Belgian Tour of Flanders and Liege - Bastogne - Liege, Paris - Roubaix in France. As long as Lombardy, which is called "the classic of fallen leaves", has survived, it is in October.
May began, and the Giro d'Italia did not start in May. Television channels endlessly play replays of past starts, catching up with melancholy.
The sports functionaries delayed the inevitable decision concerning the Tour de France as best they could. The postponement of the Olympics has already been announced, and the International Cycling Union remained silent until recently about the prospects for holding the most expensive, most famous, most prestigious cycling race in the world. After all, if the Tour does not go in 2020, then is it worth spending this worthless season at all - so many thought. Finally, in April, the French government issued a verdict: no sporting events in the country until September.
The cycling world did not react quickly to this statement, and the cycling world was speechless.
Part 2. Who Owns Cycling
The situation was greatly complicated by the fact that professional sports in general and cycling, in particular, are not able to survive without great competition. Professional sport is dependent in the care of sponsors, it will not feed itself. And sponsors are not loving parents, but investors who need a return. Any big start, especially one like the Tour de France, is the jackpot that sponsors get: it's advertising, it's a hundred million sitting in front of TV screens.
Cycling knows the rules of the game well, as well as knows that it belongs to housewives. Among the sponsors of the teams, in addition to technical partners who provide equipment, are supermarket chains, lotteries, and manufacturers of all sorts of things for the house - from windows and laminate to kitchen appliances. It is profitable for a supermarket to stick its logo on the jersey of an eminent racer who will win everything in a row in the next couple of years. Women from the kitchen will remember the racer, they will remember the logo together with him, and after the broadcast ends, they will go to the right store for pasta and tomato paste - this is how it works.
Why do housewives watch the cycling at all? They just have a good daily routine. Two hundred men with pumped-up legs are rushing somewhere, straining their muscles - they could, of course, be more shoulders, but on the whole, it will do well. They drive for a long time, distracted by household chores. No matter how you look at the TV, there are either mountains or the sea - beautiful.
The distribution of roles suited everyone until the wheels stopped spinning. If there is no competition, there are no broadcasts, which greatly saddens housewives. Sponsors are sad for about the same reason, and their melancholy is even stronger: there is no advertising, there is no expected effect from the impact on the audience, and the teams are still asking to eat - annoying.
Lockdown, it lasted long enough, is capable of ruining professional sport in its modern sense, and in the cycling world, they know about it. Since the beginning of the year, manufacturers of bicycles and Bike Accessories have not presented a single really high-profile novelty: there is no need. Presentations have always been timed to coincide with big starts so that the cycling professionals advertise products that have just been released during the race. In this sense, the same "Tour" is called a global bicycle market. Sales of top-of-the-line road bike models depend on whether those bikes have competed in big races, and sometimes even won them. The Cycling Sunglasses, in which the idol was, will become fashionable for years to come. Cyclists are not greedy guys at all, and marketers take advantage of this. In this regard, the victory in Paris is a triumph for the driver and his team, but less so for their sponsors.
This is the difficult situation in which the athletes and the International Cycling Federation find themselves. You can console housewives by feeding them all the memorable events of cycling history recorded on tape this year. But sponsors will not accept the cancellation of the season - they will scatter. Some teams have already felt the cold wind of change. Just one example: a renowned team a few years ago was bought and transformed by a Polish businessman who owns a chain of shoe stores and is passionate about cycling. Everything was fine until the lockdown, and when it came, the businessman chose to remain a businessman: he hinted unambiguously that he was going to interrupt his cooperation with the exciting world of sweat and high speeds. He says nothing personal, tylko biznes.
Part 3. Remotely
Against the background of all this, the cyclists were very sad. They are, in principle, not spoiled guys: in this sport, there are no cosmic salaries, and you have to plow like a horse, otherwise, you will not keep up with the herd. They say here: if it were easy, it would be called football. And suddenly, overnight, all the potential accumulated by the season was not in demand, the prospects were hidden in an impenetrable fog - in general, as ordinary people call it, problems at work.
Most of the top athletes of this type "nest" either in Italy or in Spain - this is such a working necessity. Professional sport is for adults, in the sense that no one will run after you and watch what you eat and how you sleep. In the offseason, you get a training plan from the coach, get in shape, maintain adequate weight and condition. By the beginning of the competitive season, there is a general gathering, where you can immediately see who rested how. Not ready? Well, there is no one to blame, there are more than enough people wanting a place in the Major League. So the "professionals" have to educate their will and not give themselves a descent, and at the same time look for a house somewhere in a suitable area for training in order to spend at least some part of the year next to the family.
2020 introduced the words "quarantine" and "self-isolation" into everyday life. Italy stayed at home, Spain stayed at home. People sing out of boredom on balconies and kitchens or run marathon races in the backyard - 500 laps around trash cans.
For athletes, this means the same as for everyone else: you can't go beyond the store. Although cyclists may find it easier in something: you won't hit the ball on the walls, but the cyclist puts the machine on the floor, puts the bike on the machine, connects the sensors, turns on the application - and sweats, peering intently at his virtual image on the screen. What recently seemed like a breakthrough, but just a computer game, today is almost the only manifestation of cycling in nature. Champions compete virtually.
This is great, because many have the opportunity to race with the great, albeit in absentia. Not bad fun for long winter evenings sometime during calm times, but even the most ardent dreamers find it hard to imagine what the future of big cycling could be. Will you watch a man sweating on TV against the backdrop of drawn curtains in a dark room for five hours in a row? And housewives will not, and without housewives, as we have already found out, everything, a skiff of all this "faster, higher, stronger."
Part 4. Some for others
In crises like this, it becomes clear how closely everything is interconnected. One world cannot remain aloof from another in distress: one will perish - the other will perish. People associated with cycling cannot heal, but in these difficult, alarming times for all, they do what they can: they do not remain indifferent.
Companies that made ultra-modern sportswear are now making face masks and medical gowns.
Manufacturers of helmets and sports optics donate special goggles and face shields to doctors.
Many athletes make significant financial contributions to medical institutions in their countries.
Local bike shops in Europe were in a difficult situation: many of them had to close for a while due to the quarantine. Clients came to the rescue, who agreed to redeem vouchers online for the future: you pay today, and you come to shop when the store resumes its work. These deductions helped owners pay rent or pay staff salaries.
And all, without exception, call on people around the world to take care of their own health and, with patience, stay at home as long as necessary, if possible.
Part 5. Life. Restart
In fact, it wasn't until May, after two months of fear, that good news began to arrive. So far, these are just cautious hints that things will work out, but even such news is a more reliable reference point than the enduring anxiety that does not let go for so long.
Europe begins to loosen quarantine. Today the center of world cycling is Monaco. The principality was one of the first residents to ride bicycles relatively freely. Many professionals headed straight away.
Everything goes to the fact that soon it will be possible to fully ride a bike in Italy, Spain. In the months when sports are to be held with might and main, riders will only get in shape for future starts. And this is an optimistic scenario.
The International Cycling Union, with athletes, fans, and last but not least sponsors in mind, tried to save everyone that could be saved. Now, in some three months, all three grand tours, five "monuments", the world championship, and a whole scattering of other wonderful races should fit.
The season will restart on August 1 in Italy with Strade Bianche - is it really symbolic? If only this old-new road turned out to be happy if only good plans for the future finally began to come true.